On Thursday, women’s organisations across India will conduct a mass action, Women March For Change.
Their goal, their communication says, is to encourage women to “use their vote to reject the current environment of hate and violence and to claim their constitutional rights as citizens of a democratic republic”.
The action has no single owner, it is a loose collective, decentralised, with groups all over the country self-organising events. The team at the core expect marches and protests to happen across metros, smaller towns and villages; an incomplete list on Wednesday evening named 141 events in 20 states.
In Delhi, marchers will meet at Mandi House and walk to Jantar Mantar, where a programme will be held. Ahmedabad has seven events, Mumbai has two. Penetration is higher across north India, but the southern States will have rallies in several locations, including Chennai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad.
“With more time it could have become larger,” one organiser said.
“People are contacting us all the time, and we are connecting them to local programmes. Or if they are able to do it on their own, we are requesting them to do it.” Planning began on March 21, and quickly found support — over 200 endorsement by that evening — and then the message was passed on via networks of women’s and secular organisations.
‘Democracy at stake’
The activist Shabnam Hashmi, one of the core team organising the event, says it is about women coming together to give a clear call to defeat the present government.
“What we have witnessed, not only as women but as citizens of this country in the last five years, there is an attack on every single democratic institution in this country and democracy is at stake right now. If these people come back, then we don’t know when the next election is going to take place or not. If they are in majority, they are definitely going to change the Constitution.”
The group quotes statistics, like that over just last year, 101 lakh jobs were lost, the majority of them by women, leaving women from marginalised sections in bad shape. Dipta Bhog another team member, quoted numbers from a reply in Parliament by Dr. Virendra Kumar, Minister of State in the Ministry of Women and Child Development, which said that with the government’s Beti Bachao Beti Padhao programme, more than 50% of the budget of was spent on publicity.
The demand, Ms. Bhaiya says, is for change in the entire political and economic system. “We don’t want empty development, a sale of the country to the multinational companies and the industrialists. We are saying that Dalits, Muslims, Adivasis, they are rising because they are being pushed under the poverty line, losing their rights, their entitlement, and when they ask for it, they are called antinational. We do not want a Hindu rashtra. We want a secular, diverse, equality-based political system.”
The decision to do this now is linked to the imminent national elections. “Things have never been this bad in the country,” Ms. Hashmi says. “It’s not that violence was not happening earlier. But we don’t know of any government that literally felicitated the murderers and rapists.” Women’s vote can make a difference, the group says.
Their focus, Ms. Bhaiya says, will be asking all women — and supportive men — to vote thoughtfully, not for parties but for individual who they had examined deeply, people who are honest, committed to eliminate poverty and discrimination, and who believe in a peaceful inclusive India. She says that the movement does not stop on April 4 either: “This rising will be followed by risings in villages, slums different districts, till 48 hours before the elections in that State.”
To find out about rallies in their cities, readers can check @WomenMarch4C on Twitter, WomenMarch4Change on Instagram, or @womensmarch2019 on Facebook.